When I first moved to Israel I craved the geographic distance — I would have moved to the moon had that been a possibility (That’s another dirty secret they won’t tell you at the aliya office — many people make aliya to create space between them and their families). In the psycho-babble of the eighties, parents especially mothers were “smotherers” barriers to personal growth. To develop into a healthy adult I needed to cut the proverbial apron strings until no threads remained.
Looking back, I could have found a gentler path to independence but at twenty four, I was restless. My own life seemed as endless as the miles between my old country and my new one and my parents both of whom had survived the holocaust appeared to be both invincible and immortal.
The therapists were right — going away salved the conflict between us. We grew older, wiser, more tolerant. We learned to love each other in new ways.
My father died almost two decades ago and for the past nine years, my mother has had Parkinson’s disease which is like dying on the installment plan, a little bit at a time. At this point, she is bedridden and almost completely crippled. She is cared for by my New York family and a team of aides who render all of the services a devoted mother or nanny would give a newborn.
Survivors children are famously dedicated to their aging parents. Growing up with the knowledge that our parents already bore more than their share of life’s pain forces us to compensate. As kids we behave nicely and bring home good grades, and when we grow up we become masters at elder care.
I marvel at my US family’s dedication. My brother visits daily, sometimes more than once a day as do the other relatives.
I phone, often and I visit as much as I can though it never seems like enough. And visiting is not the same as being there. It is my brother and the rest of my New York family who do the real work, hiring and firing aides who come and go like winter storms, accompanying my mother on her endless rounds of doctor’s visits, and comforting her at midnight when she feels the angel of death is too near.
I’ve thought about moving back but I don’t. Israel is my place, my family’s place, the place where Jewish destiny is being made, where I can achieve the greatest degree of closeness to G-d, where I can live a life that honors the memory of the Six Million. That sounds like mouthful and it is, but that doesn’t take away the pain of being far away when my mother needs me to be close.
It hurts to receive news of a the latest crisis — it seems like the life of the elderly is lived from crisis to crisis — and not be able to pitch in.
It hurts to phone and barely hear my mother’s voice due to the faulty phone connection and her Parkinson’s weakened vocal chords.
It hurts to go to her because that means leaving my husband and kids.
It hurts to arrive at my mother’s home and discover new signs of deterioration, a walker where a cane one sufficed, a wheelchair, a Hoyer lift.
And of course it hurts to say goodbye both of us wondering if this goodbye will be the last one.